How do you inspire an entire organization to focus on the customer?
It’s a question that vexes many a business leader, as they seek to create a customer-centric culture and a competitively differentiated customer experience.
Executives typically employ a variety of tried-and-tested tools to achieve these cultural aspirations, among them: Voice-of-the-Customer programs, empathy training, improved new hire screening, better socialization of customer-centric behaviors, as well as customer experience-oriented performance metrics and compensation schemes.
Those are all valuable instruments, but they neglect to account for the fact that, oftentimes, one of the biggest impediments to creating a customer-centric culture is that many employees don’t think they have a customer.
The “customer” is front and center for those staff who possess front-line jobs and have regular day-to-day contact with actual customers (e.g., salespeople, service representatives, field technicians).
However, the line of sight to the customer is murkier for the many employees who don’t work in front-line roles, in areas such as marketing, finance, information technology and human resources. For those employees, the C-Suite’s clarion call for customer-centricity can feel less relevant, less motivating.
That’s a serious problem and it can scuttle any organization’s attempt to build a customer-centric culture. That’s because a great customer experience doesn’t start and end with a company’s front-line, customer-facing staff. Sure, they play an essential role, but so, too, do all of the employees who support the efforts of the front-line:
The marketers who arm salespeople with effective communication materials. The human resources staff who help team leaders hire customer-oriented talent. The IT experts who develop and maintain the systems on which service representatives rely. The finance professionals who help executives understand the health of the business and allocated resources accordingly.
What’s critical for employees in these “support areas” to understand is that they do have a customer – it just might be an internal one.
That doesn’t make the customer experience they provide is any less important, because before a company can deliver a great experience to its external customers, it must first deliver a great experience to its internal ones.
And, so, to foster a customer-centric culture, business leaders must impress upon their workforce this simple, fundamental truth: No matter what title you possess or what position you hold, there are only two roles in the organization – you’re either serving the customer, or you’re serving someone else who does. Period.
By describing every employees’ responsibility in this simple manner, it helps frame the concept of customer-centricity in a way that’s relevant and actionable for the entire workforce. It promotes a culture which rightfully accentuates the value not just of the traditional, external customer experience, but also of the oft-neglected but equally important internal customer experience.
It also highlights to all employees how, regardless of where they sit in the organization, they are an instrumental part of the customer experience value chain. And even if they don’t occupy the final link in that chain – the one that’s directly in contact with the end customer – the point is that every link, upstream and downstream, needs to be strong and solid if the business has any hope of impressing its clientele.
Finally, articulating the essence of employees’ roles in this way has an additional subtle but influential advantage. It promotes an egalitarian approach to customer experience, where no group is more important than another, where there’s no “back office” and “front office,” where the roles of even the most senior executives are on equal footing with those of the most junior workers. That can encourage the kind of collaboration and esprit de corps that helps galvanize an organization around a goal.
Rallying an entire business around the customer experience imperative, and shaping its culture accordingly, is never easy. However, by simplifying the characterization of employees’ roles in that endeavor, companies can accelerate their cultural transformations into truly customer-centric organizations.
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